Picks and Pans Review: Violets Are Blue

updated 04/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

If you're going to make a blustery, bittersweet romance, you don't cast Sissy Spacek and Kevin Kline in the leads. Although fine actors, both are really best at miniatures. They specialize in everyday people, and despite its small-town setting, Violets Are Blue is a tearjerker operating on overdrive, in need of overblown star performances. After all, this is a movie with a climax cribbed from Casablanca and a syrupy score suitable for A Summer Place. Naomi Foner's skeletal script grafts an '80s career-woman plot onto a '50s star-crossed-lovers situation. Once upon a time, Spacek and Kline were high school sweethearts, and they frolic through an embarrassing prologue to make that point. (Kline, 38, and Spacek, 35, can hardly pass for teenagers.) Soon they part paths and values. She becomes a globe-trotting photo-journalist. He becomes editor of the local paper in their hometown of Ocean City, Md. Fifteen years later, Spacek swoops into town to rekindle romance, which doesn't much please Kline's wife, wonderfully sketched by Bonnie Bedelia. You have to be immediately wary of any movie that establishes a romance with a montage set in an amusement park. This project, however, was probably doomed from the start. Spacek is better playing the sort of gullible woman who might sob through a showing of Violets Are Blue than she is at fleshing out the superworldly heroine. And Kline, who is one of the New York stage's treasures, suggests a man with dulled ambitions by dulling his responses as an actor. These are quiet actors to start with, but they've been directed to give performances that border on mute. Only Bedelia colors her character with the idiosyncrasies that resemble real life. As a wife devoted to domestic duties, she confesses to Spacek, "I'm beginning to like the smell of paint thinner." Directed by Spacek's husband, Jack Fisk, who collaborated with his wife on Raggedy Man, this movie asphyxiates on its reverence for the common folk. Instead of celebrating the virtues of ordinary people, Violets Are Blue is inadvertently condescending. Small-town life has never been made to look so suffocating or mundane as it does under Fisk's admiring gaze. Besides undercutting its own good intentions with bad execution, Violets Are Blue is something a movie romance should never be: It's smaller than life. (PG-13)

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